6 minute read 31 May 2021
Automatic packing machine with plastic bag and paper box

How P&G’s Albany plant tackled the COVID-19 crisis

By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

6 minute read 31 May 2021
Related topics Alliances Supply chain

Manufacturing resilience in action — find out how a P&G plant in Georgia handled unexpected demand spikes and employee shortage. 

In brief
  • The foundation of operational excellence at P&G is the company’s Integrated Work System (IWS), 
  • At the beginning of the pandemic, P&G’s Albany plant faced numerous challenges, including sudden demand spikes and the fear of shutting down. 
  • The education and training elements within IWS enabled employees to handle the COVID-19 situation well.

As we have explored in our Four ways to use digital solutions to strengthen manufacturing resilience series — operational resilience — the ability to quickly and effectively bounce back in the face of disruption and adversity — is a hallmark of every successful company. And no manufacturer epitomizes resilience more than the global consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G). 

How IWS helps build greater manufacturing resilience

In the past several decades, P&G has built a culture of operational excellence that has enabled the company to sustain world-class manufacturing performance. The foundation of operational excellence at P&G is the company’s Integrated Work System (IWS). IWS, which is a key part of the EY Smart Factory solution that is built on Microsoft Azure, is based on the philosophy of striving for zero loss and 100% employee ownership. It’s used in all P&G plants around the world to drive continuous improvements in throughput, quality, productivity and cost reduction. It also, according to Neal Meldrum, Business Strategy Manager at Microsoft, is helping to transform manufacturers’ people. “By combining EY knowhow and Microsoft technologies, the EY Smart Factory is a great example of how digital solutions are enabling remote work, upskilling people and empowering workers to return to work in new ways,” said Meldrum. “Such technologies are having a big impact as companies continue to make tremendous investments in workforce transformation.” 

One of the defining elements of IWS is the emphasis on continually evolving and improving standards to generate operational consistency. These standards are unique in two ways. The first is that they’re positioned as not the definitive, unquestioned way of working, but rather, the current best approach. All workers are encouraged to always look for better ways to do things and improve on the standards in place - which means that the standards continually benefit from P&G’s best practices and thinking. The second is that standards are put in place where problems have been solved, to draw a direct line between the use of those standards and beneficial impacts to the company. Such a clear connection illustrates the importance of standards and builds a cultural desire for people to follow them, which results in consistently high levels of performance across all of the company’s plants.

The foundation of operational excellence at P&G is the company’s Integrated Work System (IWS). IWS, is based on the philosophy of striving for zero loss and 100% employee ownership.

IWS and the culture it fosters are critical to P&G’s ability to weather — and even thrive during — disruptions that could sink less-capable organizations. The company saw this firsthand when the COVID-19 crisis hit, which resulted not only in massive shifts in demand but also health and safety concerns for P&G employees — especially the shop floor workers whose jobs couldn’t be done remotely. Every P&G plant around the world suddenly had to determine how to keep their lines running to continue meeting consumers’ demands while implementing a wide range of health protocols and staffing adjustments to prevent or inhibit the virus’s spread. With workers steeped in the principles and culture of IWS, facilities were mobilized quickly to address the disruptions and associated challenges.

Here is the experience of a P&G plant and how the collaborative efforts of plant leaders and line workers, combined with the foundation provided by IWS and its standards, enabled them to rapidly and creatively adapt to the current landscape.

Albany, Georgia: operating in one of the hottest of hot spots

A US city of around 75,000 people in southern Georgia, Albany made national news for its struggle with COVID-19. At one point, Albany had the fourth-highest outbreak of COVID-19 cases per capita in the US and saw its small hospital overrun in a matter of weeks.

The situation was dire for the city and a huge potential threat to the P&G plant there, which employs 900 people from the surrounding area. “It’s a very tight-knit community,” recalls Farid Khan, Plant Manager, P&G Albany. “It’s not unusual for someone to know at least one person who works in the plant.”

The plant, which produces P&G paper products, was coming off a strong 2019 and preparing to deliver record results in the first quarter of 2020. But in mid-February, the plant began seeing signs that things weren’t normal.

Unexpected demand spikes in Albany

“I'm meeting with my central planners and I couldn't understand why my demand was going a lot higher than what we were producing,” says Khan. “We were like, ‘Something doesn't look right. Folks look like they're buying a lot more paper towel and toilet paper.’ We didn’t know why, but all the signals were showing that we were going to have to start up more production lines.”

An older paper machine, idled for a decade, was pressed into service. With the help of employees on loan from other paper plants, Albany was able to get the machine up and running at 50% capacity. But demand continued to surge, and the Albany plant was directed to have the machine at full capacity in short order.

At the same time, it was becoming clear that a pandemic was coming and the plant needed to prepare for the worst. That included determining what to do if COVID-19 hit the plant. How could the plant continue to operate at the capacity it needed to, if lines had to be shut down while employees are quarantined? “We knew that the health and safety of our people come first, and that we would give up production before we compromised that,” says Khan. “Our people needed to feel safe coming to work.”

With that as the objective, Khan and his team set about developing contingency plans and a wide range of very robust health and safety protocols. After the first COVID-19-related death in the city, these were rolled out across the plant. Then the team of loaned employees who were running the old machine returned to their home bases, leaving Albany to consider how to keep the machine operational. Wanting to continue meeting the plant’s production targets, Khan and his team decided to hire new workers to run it. But throwing nearly 50 new employees into a demanding, uncertain and constantly changing environment — to run equipment they know nothing about — could be a recipe for disaster.

IWS helps workers get up to speed  

The education and training element within IWS, which includes pairing every new hire with an experienced team for coaching and mentoring, enabled new employees to get up to speed quickly and the old machine to continue to produce.

There were plenty of other challenges that the plant experienced. However, the Albany plant came through the crisis to this point with flying colors, producing 20% more volume than it ever has in nearly 50 years with no breakdowns or failures due to maintenance shortcuts. This was the case, despite having to hire a significant number of new employees for a very high-pressure environment.

“We knew the plant was facing potentially big losses, and it was very important that employees took ownership of mitigating loss where we can,” Khan observes. “The power of engaging each and every person at the plant allows us to give them the autonomy to make decisions when needed.”

The power of engaging each and every person at the plant allows us to give them the autonomy to make decisions when needed.
Farid Khan
P&G Albany Plant Manager

P&G, like countless other manufacturers around the world, certainly didn’t expect a global pandemic, and has definitely encountered myriad challenges in keeping its business running as effectively as possible. But its strong culture and legacy of operational excellence have enabled the company to overcome these challenges when others without such a foundation have failed.

The next article in this series will look at how a P&G plant in India was able to successfully run without any mangers on the shop floor when COVID-19 broke out.

Summary

Global consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) has always been building a culture of operational excellence which has helped the multinational firm sustain world-class manufacturing performance. The basis of operational superiority at P&G is the company’s Integrated Work System (IWS). During the COVID-19 pandemic, P&G’s Albany plant had to unexpectedly face numerous challenges, including sudden demand spikes and the fear of shutting down due to quarantining of workers. However, the education and training element within IWS enabled employees to handle the COVID-19 situation in an efficient way.

About this article

By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Related topics Alliances Supply chain